December 10, 2005: Headlines: COS - Solomon Islands: Oral History: Flint Journal: Solomon Islands RPCV Alfreda Harris has collected and recorded dozens of stories from Flint residents

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Solomon Islands: Peace Corps Solomon Islands : The Peace Corps in the Solomon Islands: December 10, 2005: Headlines: COS - Solomon Islands: Oral History: Flint Journal: Solomon Islands RPCV Alfreda Harris has collected and recorded dozens of stories from Flint residents

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Solomon Islands RPCV Alfreda Harris has collected and recorded dozens of stories from Flint residents

Solomon Islands RPCV Alfreda  Harris has collected and recorded dozens of stories from Flint residents

As a young woman, Harris left Flint to travel to California and Oregon. She served in the Solomon Islands with the Peace Corps, became a fourth-grade teacher. After 22 years away, the world traveler finally returned to her hometown in 1998.

Solomon Islands RPCV Alfreda Harris has collected and recorded dozens of stories from Flint residents

Stories about old Flint neighborhoods come from the heart
Saturday, December 10, 2005
By Rose Mary Reiz

Alfreda Harris knows a good story when she hears one.

Harris, 50, collected and recorded dozens of stories from Flint residents, past and present, for "A View From the Front Porch," a Sloan Museum exhibit that runs through Dec. 31.

"Listening to the stories was an emotional experience for the people telling them, and for me as a listener," said Harris, coordinator of the exhibit, which celebrates Flint neighborhoods.

"I was amazed at how vivid people's memories were, even of neighborhoods like St. John Street, which doesn't exist anymore. All it is now is bare ground, but the people who grew up there can still point out exactly where the fruit trees and stores were."

Harris was a natural choice as coordinator for the exhibit, a grant-funded project that helps mark the city's 150th anniversary.

She grew up in northwest Flint in the home in which her mother still lives and vividly remembers playing with her brothers and sisters in the old neighborhood.

"Our streets weren't paved until the '70's, so we referred to our area as Dirt Street," Harris said.

"There were so many children that the whole street was one big playground. We were out from morning to night, playing kickball and Red Rover."

As a young woman, Harris left Flint to travel to California and Oregon. She served in the Solomon Islands with the Peace Corps, became a fourth-grade teacher. After 22 years away, the world traveler finally returned to her hometown in 1998.

She worked as a literacy advisor for Flint School District, coordinated community projects for the schools and the Flint Cultural Center and became a storyteller and artist-in-residence at Sloan.

Woven through each experience is her belief in "the power of storytelling and the wonderful opportunities stories provide for making connections."

Connections are what "A View From the Front Porch" is all about.

The exhibit comprises a "neighborhood" of front porches and stoops, toy-strewn front yards and chain link fences. Videos are shown on clever screens imbedded in a picnic table and hung on a clothesline.

Thousands of area residents have visited the exhibit since its July opening, some returning with friends and relatives. Some take advantage of the opportunity to sit on lawn chairs and reminisce while their children play dress-up or practice hula hooping.

"Most of the exhibit is touchable," Harris said. "It's been so much fun to watch the visitors, to see the children dressing up or a mother teaching her daughter to play jacks."

Noticeably absent from the exhibit are auto industry giants and other Flint movers and shakers. Instead, photos and artifacts celebrate what ordinary folks did in ordinary neighborhoods.

The exhibit pays homage to memory-inducing objects like milk chutes and wooden paving bricks. Photographs capture small but proud moments: a 1928 Safety Patrol squad, a soldier's return, a prom date, a wedding, a new car.

One videotaped former resident recalled the days before his old neighborhood became "the hood," before air conditioners and television sets drew people from the front porch inside, back when neighbors looked out for each other.

Such portraits were collected during Harris' 75 visits to schools, churches and homes and are the result of her abilities as a story listener as well as teller, said Jim Berry, Sloan's curator of programs.

"Alfreda helps draw out stories from the most bashful people," Berry said. "She makes people feel comfortable."

For Harris, the project serves as a tribute to the past and a template for the future.

"It provides a vision of what could be," she said. "Personally, it's affirmed my reasons for being back in Flint. I feel a warm, true connection to Flint and the people. I want so much more for this city."

The good news, she added, is that "even Flint's most desperate neighborhoods have pockets where people know each other, watch out for each other, care about their property and where children respect their elders."

The exhibit will be taken down later this month. Portions of it might be re-used as a traveling display. Grants also are available for "Retelling Our Stories," a regional reworking of the exhibit a few years down the road.

In the meantime, Sloan's front porches are waiting for residents and those returning home for the holidays to sit a spell and share some memories.

The exhibit, "A View From the Front Porch," at Sloan Museum, 1221 E. Kearsley St., runs through Dec. 31. Museum hours are: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday noon.-5 p.m.

Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 4-11 and $3 for seniors. Children 3 and under are free. Details: (810) 237-3450.

When this story was posted in December 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Flint Journal

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Solomon Islands; Oral History


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